Q&A: James Dobrowski on Sharkmob London’s new offices

During his recent trip to London for EGX 2022, Vince Pavey also had the chance to swing by the grand opening of Sharkmob London’s swanky new offices in Covent Garden. Here’s what James Dobrowski, Managing Director, had to say to him about their move.

Why move the studio’s location now?

Sharkmob was originally founded in Malmo, Sweden, back in 2017, with the dream of building a AAA studio with a people centric focus. A place where we could build ambitious new IP, whilst ensuring our team felt real ownership over their work, and had a great time doing it. 

The London studio was started a few years later – September 2020 – with the idea that combining the historic expertise and excellence of British game development with the Swedish flair for developing new IP, would lead to something really special. 

As a very small group of founders in London, we initially took some space in a shared office in Soho, but realistically found ourselves spending most of our formative months working from home as the pandemic hit. Overall however, that space could fit around 40 people, very tightly squeezed in. It was a great little start-up home for us, but it wasn’t going to suit longer term. Coming out of the pandemic, we were really keen to build a studio in London that reflected our ambitions. Something large enough to fit our future AAA team, inspiring enough to recruit the best people in the industry, and offering the best facilities in support of our people doing their best creative work.

What are some of the biggest features of the new studio, things that you didn’t have at your previous location?

The space we have makes a huge difference! Our previous space fit around 40 people into less than 2,000 SQFT, whereas we can now house approximately 250 team members very comfortably. This studio is also tailor made for our specific requirements, spanning from the careful design of the general layout to some of the more specialist facilities we’re putting in place.

On the layout front, we’ve optimised for cross team collaboration with desks organised in feature pods, each separated by open collaboration that allow individual teams and groups of teams to come together for brainstorming and problem solving activities. We were also really passionate about designing a space with neuro-diversity in mind, and the layout plays a huge part in that, effectively looking to minimise visual and audio noise from individual desks where possible.

In terms of facilities, we have an amazing kitchen overlooking the Thames that can house every member of the team for all-hands events, a dedicated User Research lab, Dolby Atmos sound studios, a board game room with custom D&D table, and an eSports room for both playtesting of builds and after work events. 

We unfortunately don’t have the space for a motion capture facility here in London, but we do have a world class motion capture and photogrammetry facility in Malmo, which is only a short-hop away on the plane.

How many staff can the new studio accomodate in total? How big is it in Sq Ft?

We have approximately 40,000 Sq Ft of space, which we’ve designed to house around 250 members of staff. That sounds spacious – and it is – but we have a lot of additional facilities to house as well as the team, and our desks are fairly large to accommodate the multiple screens, dev kits and other bits and pieces necessary for AAA development.

What are the main advantages of moving into the new studio?

The new space comes with a huge number of advantages for us, but I’d say space is the primary one – both the space to fit the team we need, all on a single floor, but also the space to build the facilities that are necessary for AAA development. 

It’s also afforded us the luxury to build a studio that is a great place to be for our people, with spaces dedicated to the care and well-being of our team members, and a good amount of space dedicated to socialising and hanging out-together, which we see as integral parts of building our new culture.

As an addition, we’re also really well located in Covent Garden, with easy public transport access from all over the city, as well as from regional games hubs like Guildford and Cambridge.

What challenges has the new studio presented in terms of logistics?

Fortunately, project challenges have been minimal on this occasion. We have an amazing office team who looked after the new office project end-to-end, so for our development team it was a case of a single day away from project work to move. We’re also very fortunate that we have two studios as part of the Sharkmob family that work as close partners, so when there’s disruption to one studio there’s always support from the other.

A new office project of this scale is always a huge logistics endeavour, but we had some great partners when it came to the design, build and project management of the new studio, and again, I can’t speak more highly of our office team who made all of this happen.

Which single room are you most excited about?

Our kitchen area is pretty special. It’s been designed to house our entire team, which means we can run large all-hands events with everyone attending. Day to day it’s also a great place to have lunch, grab a coffee and spend time together. We ran a table tennis tournament in there with the team just last night, and there’s a board game room with a custom built D&D table just off one end.

The most special part is the view. We’re fortunate enough to be sitting on the north bank of the Thames at a curve in the river, offering beautiful views of Big Ben, the London Eye, St. Paul’s and The City. I think it’s a hard one to beat, and it definitely seems to impress people who come to visit.

Has moving studio location affected studio culture at all?

Most definitely! Prior to the move, we were either working remotely due to the pandemic, or working from a fairly small space which didn’t provide much elbow room. That space was great for our start-up journey and will always be a fond memory for the early members of the team, but the new space provides far more opportunity for developing a culture together.

A part of this is the fact that the studio is a real statement towards our longer term product ambitions of building great AAA games, but more importantly, it provides an amazing space for us to collaborate, socialise and spend time together, which in my mind are the most important aspects of building a good culture.

What do you hope the studio is like in a year, when you’ve had time to settle in?

The space still needs some work – we have to finish building the audio studios for example, and every day we learn a little more about how our team works and possible tweaks to the studio setup to maximise creativity and collaboration. We’ve very recently improved the amount of customisation each feature team have over their local lighting for example, introducing localised switchers and dimmers. This was a really big thing for our art team in particular.

A year from now, I’m hoping we have all the major building blocks of a AAA studio in place, and the space is highly customised to the way in which our teams like to work. I’m also looking forward to having more people with us – 40,000 Sq Ft is a lot of room for 70 or so people! We have big plans to recruit in 2024 and beyond.

Where do you hope it goes? How do you see it In five years?

So much can happen in five years, but I hope we have the whole studio space filled with incredibly talented, happy and super engaged people. We’ve hopefully launched the first game from our London studio by then, and so can shout a little louder about who we are and what we’re about.

The last two years have been a very special time for us, growing from a small start-up team with big ambitions, to where we are today – a growing team of over 70 wonderful people, a world-class development studio, and a truly inspiring project under development. Despite a backdrop of pretty challenging times it’s been an incredibly fun ride.

Personally, I’m really excited for the adventure the next five years will bring our way.

About Vince Pavey

Vince is a writer from the North-East of England who has worked on comics for The Beano and Doctor Who. He likes to play video games and eat good food. Sometimes he does both at the same time, but he probably shouldn’t.

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